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Piquet Jr. quickly forging own name in NASCAR

August 22, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Piquet Jr. quickly forging own name in NASCAR

Before he got into racing, Chris Carrier wanted to be a school teacher, and coach football or basketball on the side. He relished the idea of watching young athletes develop over time, of seeing them learn new skills they hadn't possessed a week, a month, or a year earlier. From coaching his nephew in kindergarten basketball, he knew how much gratification there could be in helping some one reach, push through, and then exceed their limits.

All of which explains why the Turner Motorsports crew chief is getting so much enjoyment out of working with Nelson Piquet Jr., the former open-wheel driver who won his second race at NASCAR's national level last weekend, and seemingly has the potential to do much more. "It's just a really cool feeling," Carrier said. "It's like you're experiencing history. It's very satisfying to me."

"... I think I'm very lucky and very blessed to be surrounded by the right guys. It's just part of learning, and I'm sure we're going to win another race very soon. This is just our first one, and it's going to pick up now."

--NELSON PIQUET JR.

As it surely is to Piquet, son of a three-time Formula One world champion who is forging his own name in a style of racing very different than many might have anticipated. Although he won earlier this year at Road America in a Nationwide tour event, Saturday's victory at Michigan International Speedway was his first on the Camping World Truck Series, in which he competes regularly. A former F1 racer in his own right -- the younger Piquet competed two years for the Renault team, recording one podium finish over that span -- Piquet Jr. has adapted more quickly than many expected to the stock-car ranks.

*Video: Piquet wins Michigan

Although he stands eighth in championship points, Piquet has eight top-10 finishes in 12 Truck Series starts this season, and came close to winning earlier this year in Rockingham. He also has a victory in the K&N Pro Series East at Bristol Motor Speedway, where the trucks compete on Wednesday night. All this despite the fact that the Brazil native came up in a decidedly open-wheel environment, taking the traditional path to F1, and didn't start racing in stock cars until last year.

"Obviously, I'm starting all over to a whole different career than what my father did in Europe. I'm starting everything new here in America in NASCAR," Piquet Jr. said after his Michigan victory. "So I think it's only the beginning. This is the third race we've won this year if you count the K&N race, so I think ... it's quite good. ... I think I've been learning quickly. I have great people around me to teach me, to rely on, and to be always there. Even if we have a bad weekend, nobody gives up, and everybody's there the next day, so I think I'm very lucky and very blessed to be surrounded by the right guys. It's just part of learning, and I'm sure we're going to win another race very soon. This is just our first one, and it's going to pick up now."

Piquet Jr. experienced tremendous success in go-karting and formula ladder circuits, but never approached the F1 success of his father, who stands alongside Ayrton Senna and Emerson Fittipaldi in the ranks of greatest Brazilian drivers of all time. The younger Piquet's brief F1 career ended in controversy, after Renault brass ordered him to crash intentionally at Singapore in 2008 to help teammate Fernando Alonso win the race. As a result, the Renault team was banned from F1 for two years, while its director and engineering chief were ousted.

Now, those days have faded, replaced by the image of Piquet jubilantly displaying a Brazilian flag in Michigan's Victory Lane. He's winning again, just as he did in go-karts, just as he did in becoming the youngest champion of the British Formula Three series. In NASCAR, Piquet drives before a fan base that perhaps isn't as familiar with his history, or even his father's exploits. But they're beginning to learn what the 27-year-old might be capable of behind the wheel.

"I know we haven't been winning all the races, but it's not easy for me. I'm coming from a totally different background," Piquet said. "I'm happy also when I win these races to prove to fans that I'm capable of winning in any kind of cars that they put me into. Like I always said, I love racing. It doesn't matter if it's the K&N race I did, or the go-kart outlaws I raced a few weeks ago with [Turner Nationwide crew chief] Jimmy Elledge, or if it's Nationwide. I love racing. I want to be successful, I want to have a living out of it, so that's my goal."

Piquet's father wasn't in Michigan to see his son's triumph. But Carrier was fairly certain as to what the elder Piquet's reaction would be, and knows his driver's high expectations are engrained in his DNA.

"I'm not really a student of open-wheel or Formula One racing, but I do know about racing. I do know about what it takes for other people to respect you, and for your peers to respect you, and then your family to respect you. I can tell simply from being around him -- nobody has to tell me, I can feel it -- he has high expectations," the crew chief said after the victory.

"I know that this guy sitting next to me, there's nothing that's going to be anything satisfactory less than winning, less then being a winning driver in what he's competing in, no matter how far it goes. He's proven that to me. I can rest assure you that right now, his dad has a great big smile on his face, and he's very proud of his son. And I'm sure that down deep, his dad knows that a lot of this day is because of him and because of how he taught his son. It's no different than a southeastern American father teaching his kid to play baseball when he is a good baseball player himself .... When he has success, when he hits a home run or when he goes on and plays in high school or college or so on and so forth, that feeling of gratification, there's nothing like that."

Piquet isn't the first Brazilian driver to make it in NASCAR; his teammate Miguel Paludo also competes in the Camping World Truck Series, and Christian Fittipaldi gave stock cars a try after his open-wheel career ended. When NASCAR began its international efforts that resulted in Nationwide races and developmental series in Mexico and Canada, Brazil was one country considered by the sanctioning body. Today, NASCAR supplies video clips and information to Brazilian outlets to keep media in that country updated on Piquet's exploits. For the driver, it's all part of an attempt to convince others in his home country to consider a similar path.

"At the same time I'm trying to conquer it and be successful, I'm trying to mirror this to Brazil and to drivers in Brazil and show them that, look -- Europe is not the only way to go. You can come to America, you can have a lot of fun, you can invest your sponsors over here. America is much closer to Brazil, I'm sure there's a lot more business going between Brazil and America. So why not come over here?" Piquet said.

"Obviously because we had Senna, Fittipaldi, my father, going to Formula One and winning eight championships, it made that route kind of the only route to go, just because everybody followed it and it was part of the culture. ... I'm doing it not only to get sponsors or continue getting sponsors, I'm also doing it to make it more aware in Brazil -- from fans to drivers to parents to companies to everything ... because I think it's a great sport, and there's no reason more Brazilians shouldn't be coming into late models, K&N series, and up to NASCAR one day."